Prior to acing the Glaston recruitment process Anders Dahlblom spent over 18 years in the insulation business, first at Paroc Group where he held, among others, the positions of CFO (2006) and Managing Director (2018). In early 2019 he then became Vice President and Managing Director of the European insulation business at Owens Corning which had acquired Paroc at the beginning of 2018.
From this background marked by various changes in private equity ownership, Mr Dahlblom maintains a strong focus on value creation. “Increasing a company’s value leads to addressing issues like top line growth, operational excellence, continuous improvement, etc.” he comments. In addition, the insulation business and the glass industry share a common link with the construction sector “as buildings account for roughly 40% of energy consumption and some 35% of CO2 emissions” he notes.
Hence Mr Dahlblom’s full awareness of the critical role and potential of glass in the sustainability equation. Along with the international experience of leadership and integration processes that he gained in a US corporation, industry insights and a sharp focus on sustainability hold Mr Dahlblom in good stead for running a glass equipment company that operates globally.
Sustainability as a main driver
What has Mr Dahlblom’s fresh look at the glass industry revealed to him? “From a technology perspective, I have been amazed by the extensive scope of glass which meets a growing range of requirements, including sustainability” he responds. “Not only for construction but for solar energy, specific industries and cars where the glazed area is increasing through displays etc. It is probably no coincidence that we meet many glass professionals with very long careers: they are moved by passion for this material and enjoy a lot of existing opportunities that AI will reinforce.”
Sustainability will be “the main driver of growth for Glaston” believes Mr Dahlblom. “In Europe alone, 35 million buildings could be renovated by 2030 according to the European Commission” [as part of the Renovation Wave for Europe strategy that aims to double annual energy renovation rates in the next ten years].
To succeed a business must have a clear long-term strategy and this is Mr Dahlblom’s first priority this year. The task requires understanding where the company stands now and where it wants to get to in a few years’ time through a value creation process. This includes defining the main focus areas to deliver the best value proposition to customers and harnessing a team with clearly aligned objectives and shared expectations to achieve the target.
This strategy also has to be shaped around the new far-reaching potential resulting from the acquisition of Bystronic glass [provider of machinery, systems and services for glass processing] in 2019. Through this merger of two similar companies operating in the same area of activity, the new Glaston has strengthened its global reach while substantially extending its product and service offering to customers. The company now has a Heat Treatment and Insulating Glass business for architectural glass, together with an Automotive and Display business providing Heat Treatment and Pre-processing.
In the first phase of the integration process which took place in 2020, Glaston worked on streamlining the new group and reducing costs by tackling the overlapping functions and locations. “There were painful measures related to job cutting but this essential task led to synergy savings which exceeded our initial forecasts and consolidated our competitiveness” Mr Dahlblom explains. The second phase of the integration is now underway, with most staff located in Finland, Germany, Switzerland and China.
“Internally, it is about implementing our culture, values and ways of working (based on the same key performance indicators to measure our work) throughout the new group and utilising the full potential of the integration” says Mr Dahlblom. “But we have to include the customer experience at the core of this journey: how to make sure that our (current and potential) customers are aware of our enhanced value proposition and can fully benefit from the new Glaston’s advantages.”
No technology leadership without digitalisation
In line with its ambition to remain an innovative technology leader, Glaston has pursued developments in digitalisation over the past few years. In the company’s view, artificial intelligence and management of big data are helping customers in different ways. Not only does digitalisation in the machinery sector allow for greater cost control through more automation, it also contributes to stabilising the quality of production. “Not forgetting its beneficial effect on energy efficiency” adds Mr Dahlblom.
When it comes to services, digitalisation makes it possible to solve technical problems through downloadable applications, to carry out service work or spare parts installation through virtual engineering assistance or to engage in predictive maintenance. “In the latter example, the customer’s system is connected to ours and notifies us when an operation is required” explains Mr Dahlblom.
This moves in the direction of customer-driven innovation: “We should really orient our innovative efforts towards the needs of our (customers’) customers rather than having a pure technological perspective, which is a challenge for many strong engineering companies” he admits.
The effects of Covid
With regards to Glaston’s performance in 2020, the pandemic seriously affected its business in different ways. The first impact came from travel restrictions: “Despite our extensive global network, we do not have a physical presence everywhere, which made it difficult to install machines or perform services in many cases. On the other hand, our people have worked hard to make installations in due time, sometimes also by using remote instruction, and we have been able to fulfill our commitments towards our customers and suppliers” says Mr Dahlblom.
Due to the economic downturn in 2020, some customers in the construction industry also reduced their investment expenditure by up to 50%, causing investments to be postponed. “Indeed, the architectural sector, especially the commercial buildings, suffered from a reduced activity, while there was a robust demand in the residential sector globally, especially in the US” notes Mr Dahlblom. “In parallel, the production of cars was down by around 35%.”
All together, this meant a decrease in Glaston’s net sales and operating profit (EBITA) in 2020 of 17% and 36%, respectively. Thanks to prompt actions to adapt its operations to market demand and implemented synergies to reduce fixed costs the company could contain, to some extent, the impact of the pandemic on results, “But a tangible recovery was in sight at the end of the year, resulting in a higher-than-expected order intake” reports Mr Dahlblom. He is also mindful of a lesson in efficiency learned during the pandemic period: smarter ways of working with colleagues and customers have emerged that don’t require long and costly travel.
Positive outlook for 2021
Following the positive trends observed in late 2020, the first weeks of 2021 indicated a progressive recovery for both the machines and services business throughout 2021. Based on these encouraging signs and without real visibility on the evolution of the pandemic, Mr Dahlblom cautiously expects that Glaston’s sales and profit will improve in comparison with last year.
In the shorter term, Glaston looks forward to bringing together a large number of stakeholders from the glass industry at the GPD Finland 2021 (Glass Performance Days), which are scheduled for 20–22 October. It is expected that this Glaston-organised event will compensate for restrictions on the exhibition and audience size with creative solutions.